Reviews by wpr1947


									                                                    reviews                                         77


              alan lupack, The Oxford Guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend. Oxford: Oxford
              University Press, 2005. isbn: 0–19–280287–9. $90.
              Alan Lupack’s Guide to Arthurian Literature is a remarkably scrupulous attempt to
              document every surviving Arthurian textual monument from the earliest records
              to contemporary literary and musical compositions. He even acknowledges the
              contributions to the Arthurian corpus from such popular sources as pornography,
              painting, comic books, and Barbie dolls (see the complete list on p. 9). Even without
              an investigation of these intriguingly frivolous areas, the book is an impressive display
              of learning, compression, organization, and completeness.
                  Lupack’s Table of Contents provides the outline and guide to the organization
              of his book and if it appears to impose more coherence on his material than the
              notoriously unwieldy Arthurian corpus would seem to accommodate, it is nevertheless
              a necessary and functional heuristic that helps to guide the reader as well as the author
              through the masses of texts covered in this work.
                  Chapter I, titled ‘Early Accounts of Arthur, Chronicles and Historical Literature’
              is in itself a masterful achievement. In a mere 82 pages (including a Bibliography),
              Lupack surveys the remaining accounts (mostly enigmatic, dubious, or both) of the
              life and afterlife (the quondam et futurus) of the historical Arthur and subsequent
              treatments of that history in verse, drama, and the novel from the Renaissance to the
              twentieth century. If, for most medievalists, there may be little new in the review of
              the ancient documents, there are bound to be revelations and surprises in at least some
              of the later treatments. The well-known is treated with admirable compression and
              efficiency, while the thoroughness of his investigation of the post-medieval treatments
              will undoubtedly lead most readers to texts previously unknown to them.
                  The following section covers the traditional companion to the chronicles,
              the romances, and is similarly structured with a review of the medieval texts
              and an excursion into post-medieval materials. The strict coherence of Lupack’s
              organizational structure breaks down at this point, however. The post-Chrétien
              romances are subdivided into ‘Lancelot and Guinevere,’ ‘Romances with Non-
              traditional Heroes,’ ‘Lanval and Launfal,’ ‘Chastity Tests,’ and ‘Ballads.’ While not
              quite as fanciful as Borges’s description of the Chinese encyclopedia, there is a certain
              randomness to this division. Nevertheless, it serves the purpose of providing rubrics
              that allow Lupack to cover a vast array of romances and to defer the mass of material
              on Tristan, the Grail, etc., to fuller treatments in subsequent chapters.

                                                                            arthuriana 16.1 (2006)

lupack-hoffman.indd 77                                                                                2/24/06 3:34:08 PM
                78                                  arthuriana

                    The following chapter, ‘Malory, His Influence, and the Continuing Romance
                Tradition,’ is the only one to concentrate on a single author (and his literary
                descendants). The fact that Malory is singled out for this honor is not only a tribute
                to his importance, but also, perhaps, a subtle acknowledgment of Lupack’s bias, a
                decided emphasis on texts in English. While European and other languages are not
                ignored and all their major (and a healthy sample of minor) works are discussed, they
                do not receive quite the coverage of Lupack’s gloriously complete investigation of the
                corpus in English. The remaining chapters cover specific characters and themes, ‘The
                Holy Grail,’ ‘Gawain,’ ‘Merlin,’ and ‘Tristan and Isolt.’ In each of these chapters,
                the basic approach is continued: a survey of the medieval sources followed by an
                extensive investigation into modern treatments, including film, and, frequently, if
                not exhaustively, art.
                    In a survey of this scope, it is inevitable that there will be omissions and perhaps
                many readers will know of some text that has not been included. Many of these
                omissions may have been entirely intentional, since publishers do have some limits
                on the length of a book. I would, however, like to mention a few texts that escape
                mention. Joan Aiken’s The Stolen Lake is a neglected, but remarkable and eccentric,
                young adult novel that features an heroic young woman in the lead, but is particularly
                notable for its unique depiction of Guinevere as an obese milligenarian surviving
                on a porridge made from the bones of young girls and waiting for Arthur’s return
                across the lake she has stolen from Wales by freezing it and exporting it cube by cube
                to her new secret hideaway in the Andes. In addition, Joan Upton Hall’s Arturo el
                Rey reincarnates Arthur as an ex-ganglord, ex-marine, Arturo Reyes, who is called
                upon to save the world from terrorists. And, lastly, I would note the not unjustly
                forgotten plays of Domenico Tumiati, La regina Ginevra (1925) and Merlino e
                Viviano (1927).
                    As is the case with any survey of this scope, specialists will find much that they
                already know, but will also, perhaps, be reminded of much that they had forgotten,
                and will, undoubtedly, learn a great deal in areas outside of their strict discipline.
                For beginners in Arthurian research this book is an indispensable treasure trove of
                information and discovery that will become, as ALMA once was, the indisputable
                starting point for any serious study of the Arthurian legend. In this ambitious and
                reader-friendly work, Alan Lupack has provided Arthurians with a work destined to
                become an essential reference source unlikely to be superceded in our lifetime.
                                                                                    don hoffm an
                                                                                        Chicago IL

lupack-hoffman.indd 78                                                                                2/24/06 3:34:13 PM

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